When you take a closer look at the pedestrian attempts of Keshav Rajpurohit and Saurabh at solving a murder mystery you sometimes feel as if the writer was a curious mix of a genre-challenged Enid Blyton (that she never was) and a pathetically jumbled-up Agatha Christie (that she never was) valiantly trying to prove his credentials as a top-selling writer. It is a known fact that Chetan Bhagat books have sold millions of copies… but this surely isn’t because writing prowess, plot treatment, and a unique story-line have converged seamlessly. The book, moreover, has bits that troubled me as I read ‘black, black, ugly, ugly‘ used for Raghu Venkatesh, a brilliant IIT graduate from one of our southern states. As if this wasn’t enough, the writer even makes a character imply that Zara Lone being a Kashmiri Muslim, was ‘somehow worse than just a plain vanilla Muslim’. These things and the fact that the book could have had a rather racy existence if the length were reduced by eighty percent make it a somewhat miserable addition to my bookshelf.
The writer is a curious mix of a genre-challenged Enid Blyton (that she never was) and a pathetically jumbled-up Agatha Christie (that she never was)…
If you haven’t yet identified the book that I am reviewing, it is ‘The girl in room 105’ by Chetan Bhagat. The blurb announces it as an unlove story that intrigued me and made it easier for me to buy it. CB is not one who writes romances, hasn’t ever bothered about thrillers, and his books have always been roaming around aimlessly looking for multiple genres to accept them. I guess this is probably what impelled the writer to serve a cocktail of suspense, romance, and a thriller rolled into one with IIT (obviously), a dash of activism, Delhi police, terrorists, business acumen, coaching classes, love, romance, extra-marital affairs, murder, intrigue, Srinagar, Pahalgam, jihad, and Kashmiri Muslims to come together to attempt and concoct a heady mixture. Let me tell you right here that this never happened.
The novel literally hobbles from IIT to Chandan classes pulling in Keshav Rajpurohit, the protagonist and his short-lived romantic foray with Zara Lone who has given up a dream scholarship to work for her doctorate at MIT to opt being a PhD scholar at IIT simply to be near her paramour. Zara, the girl in room 105 is the daughter of Safdar Lone, a rich businessman who has left Kashmir to settle in Delhi and who often makes it known that he hates ‘these extremists. They have ruined my state. Their actions taint all the good Muslims in the country’. Keshav, on the other hand has had an upbringing in an environment where ‘crying dads and slapping moms are a routine part of how Indian kids are hammered into shape and manipulated to give up on things they really want’ and doesn’t really appreciate but nevertheless accepts the ‘passive-aggressive stealth communication mothers do with their sons’ girlfriends’ calling it ‘a refined and deadly art-form‘. We obviously have the recipe, however childish, for a break-up that opens the stage for the entry of Raghu Venkatesh, the stereotypical magghu who is genetically structured to launch his own tech company that rakes in crores in a time-spam that sounds unrealistic. Somewhere between the Keshav-Zara break-up and Raghu-Zara wedding, the murder of the female protagonist, who is also shown to be an activist fighting for resolution of issues related to Kashmir, happens.
The novel weaves in and out of probable and near-probable suspects with the Dean at IIT also roped in because he was the one who, as Zara discloses in one of her emails, came to her and said, ‘Why don’t we get closer? Intimacy always helps people connect.’ She also reveals that he had once ‘kissed my right cheek and said I looked like a Kashmiri rose!!!’ Between sexual innuendoes and silly banter between Keshav and Saurabh, friends who are teaching at Chandan classes, the reader is introduced to Sikander and Captain Faiz, because they too are probable suspects. There is then the fictional Tehrek-e-Jihad, fun-loving kids who are made to mouth words like ‘I am not Indian. I am Kashmiri’, and a lot of clues obviously missed by Delhi police, that pop up off and on to push things ahead.
If you haven’t already surmised, let me add here that Keshav and Saurabh take it upon themselves to investigate and find the real murderer as they believe that arresting the watchman for this crime is somehow not right. The last few pages have a few twists that the writer probably believes unveil his brilliance in deduction techniques and expects readers to be experiencing goosebumps when read: ‘Was it something he said? Did he make an indirect taunt or insult? I replayed our conversation in my head.’ All this made me feel I was reading some adventure of the famous five re-written for demented adults. By the way, simply uttering sentences like ‘just a crush cannot create murderous passion. An affair can’ and ‘as if love, or rather lust, cares about such things’ cannot make any character sound like Hercule Poirot.
There is a distinct feeling throughout the novel that the writer is splashing away like an imbecile assuming vital issues to be as inconsequential as pot-hole puddles. There are issues that he neither understands nor does he wish to investigate. So we read on about Kashmir being ‘a problem nobody wants to solve’ but this part of the narrative stops right there. A work of fiction, some will say, doesn’t have to pretend to be a treatise on issues but when some author starts labelling parents, states of India, and relationships as one thing or the other, he must spend some time bringing in informed opinion. Even while concluding, the author suddenly informs us that Keshav and Saurabh, the friends who have been hobnobbing with under-developed investigative instincts, have ‘a curious and open mind, without any prejudice, and an attitude of never giving up’ and must, therefore, justifiably have their own detective agency. This was as if the author stubbornly wanted to go on with his silly act of prancing around with uniformly insane surprises.
However, I am not surprised that his books sell. We are a nation of book-buyers and his books are invariably available at extended discounts.
Title: The girl in room 105
Author: Chetan Bhagat
Publisher: Westland Books
30 January 2019